From the Outside, In: The Work of Shawn Coss
by Ted Zep
Shawn Coss is an outsider in the truest sense of the word. The 35-year-old artist, clothing designer and entrepreneur has clawed and scratched his way up from his humble blue collar beginnings into the glaring light of notoriety and success.
Coss produces work that is dark and evocative. It’s sinewy and abrasive and tangible. Generally composed of black ink and sharp lines, his creations make a statement and command a reaction. He draws creatures with gnashing teeth, slender limbs and ribs pressed against taunt flesh. His monsters pulse with life, yet are flush with misery.
Though now a resident of Ravenna, Coss spent his formative years living in a modest trailer park in West Virginia. With both parents working to make ends meet, he would sketch to occupy himself.
“I started off drawing Beetle Bailey,” he chuckled, “but when I was around six-years-old I began tracing images of (the video game character) Sonic the Hedgehog. It kinda just went on from there.”
As a teenager he discovered music. His work in visual mediums was set aside.
“I thought I was going to be a rock star,” said Coss. “I never saw an art career in my future.”
His father encouraged him to settle down and find a traditional job. He worked at a print shop for a number of years. Eventually, he earned his license to be a registered nurse. However, his mother always championed his dream of becoming an artist.
“My mom was totally supportive of me,” he said. “When I was young, she’d show me all these horror movies. She is responsible for my dark sense of humor and style.”
“I’m not worried how I get famous. I don’t create for the sake of a Like, Retweet or Share.”
Eventually, he resumed working on his art. He kept an online presence. One day he was contacted by someone identifying themselves as “Kris Wilson.” (Kris Wilson is best known for being a co-creator of the immensely popular and wildly irreverent webstrip, “Cyanide & Happiness.”)
“I thought it was a hack,” laughed Coss. “I was sure someone was playing a joke on me.”
Regardless, he played along. He soon found out that it was indeed Wilson who was reaching out to him looking to compliment his work. The two continued their correspondence and became friends. Wilson invited Coss to visit the C & H offices in Colorado. He went and was offered a full-time position with the company. Coss was the first person outside of the founding trio behind Cyanide & Happiness to be hired into the fold.
“I owe my whole career to Kris,” said Coss. “He changed my life. I now realized that art could be a career.”
There was, however, more to come.
“No one is going to outwork me.”
“He told me that I was working way too cheaply,” laughed Coss. “He offered to help me out.”
Fast-forward a bit further. Nemitz was bored with his day job and during a phone conversation between the two it was suggested that they start a clothing line. This marks the birth of Any Means Necessary.
Any Means Necessary is a lifestyle brand that features Coss’ artwork on shirts, hoodies, caps, etc.
By all accounts, it was an immediate sensation.
One of the most popular lines is the “Inktober” series, which are themed pieces about mental illness.
“I used to just draw ‘cool shit,’” said Coss. “The Inktober series gives my work direction. It is a voice for people who can’t describe how they are feeling. It is creepy as f***—but there is a positive meaning behind it.”
Any Means Necessary products have been embraced by a wide audience. Aside from its core base, Hollywood luminaries such as Terry Crews, Jason Momoa and Jason Mewes are fans. The brand has also expanded into prints, pins, hats, shoes and even a podcast. The partners have recently secured office space. That’s quite an accomplishment for a kid who started drawing just to amuse himself.
“Is this what fame is?”
Wizard World (Cleveland) will be taking place from March 2-4. Wizard World is a series of pop culture/media conventions held around the United States and hosted by Wizard World, Inc. Mixing film and television stars with content creators from the world of comic books has proven to be a winning formula for the company. The Cleveland event will be hosting such names as David Tennant (Dr. Who), Ezra Miller (The Flash), Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek) and Jason David Frank (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers).
Coss will be hosting a booth representing Cyanide & Happiness, as well as his clothing line. He isn’t a traditional comic book artist, that’s why his inclusion in the line-up is rather brilliant.
“I don’t fit in…that’s why it works,” he said. “My stuff caters to the fans. A lot of them are shy. They come, dress up and have fun. When they discover me and what I do, they see I’m the same (as them)…and they can relate.”
He promises a very hands-on experience for convention-goers. He will be doing a lot of live sketching, autograph signing and chatting.
“When people come up to my booth, they leave laughing,” he promised.
Shawn Coss will be at Wizard World all three days.
Wizard World will be held from March 2-4 at the Huntington Convention Center, which is located at 300 Lakeside Ave. E, Cleveland, OH 44113.
Event and ticket information can be found at wizardworld.com/comiccon/cleveland.
Shawn Coss can be found at: shawncossart.com
Any Means Necessary Clothing can be found at: any-means-necessary-clothing.myshopify.com
Cyanide & Happiness can be found at:explosm.net
(All photos courtesy of Shawn Coss.)
Ted Zep started reading comic books at the age of 10. His favorite Super Friend was Apache Chief. He won’t admit it publicly, but he still has a crush on Spider-Woman. Ted Zep can be found daily at SuperNoBueno.Wordpress.com.